Rock and Food Formations
Trip Start Nov 06, 2003
87Trip End Jan 24, 2004
The ascent to Arthur's Pass is really a series of climbs, first into the unattractive scrubland of Porter's Pass with its primitive ski areas, then along the subalpine plateaus with their lovely renegade lupine meadows. At the top of a rise, we take a photo for some cyclists who've ridden this far from ChCh today. Just down the road, the odd rock formations at Castle Hill Station draw us across an expanse of meadow. At first Emma is only excited that we may have found a Lord of the Rings (LOTR) location
After traversing a series of flood plains, purple with lupins and the mauve light of early evening, we cross into Arthur's Pass National Park. Suddenly there are trees everywhere. Due to either heavy logging or the rain shadow, the eastern peaks were almost devoid of vegetation. Here, the air is moister and colder. We take in the rich green of the forest, the smell of pine resin.
The hamlet of Arther's Pass is mostly deserted, the odd backpacker strolling between the hostel and one bar open at 5:30 pm. The mountains surrounding us impose an early evening. We try to book into the hostel - our first of the trip - but a forest fire has seconded the check-in staff.
It's always a bad sign when the only restaurant open in town lacks customers at the dinner hour. Still, the menu in the Chalet doesn't look horrific, so I order Traditional Seafood Chowder ("light creamy herb sauce served in a soda bread bowl") and Cajun Popcorn Shrimp "accompanied by dipping sauces."
While we're waiting for food, some ditty by Sting secretes from the sound system
The empty seats and Mood By Sting prepare me somewhat, but the "food" placed before us still surprises. The bread bowl for the chowder could ambitiously be called a biscuit. My soup spoon dwarfs it. Fortunately there is so very little soup that the biscuit is an almost adequate vessel. The whole affair comes in a regular ceramic bowl, with the soup forming a lukewarm puddle about the soda bread islet.
The shrimp arrives dipping sauce-less. When I ask, the waitress's response: "Oh, what kind of sauce would you like?" To be fair, three perfectly fine dipping bowls do arrive.
A check back at the hostel finds the staff still AWOL, so we opt to drive on for the free campsite 17km ahead. The predictably windy road carries us over spectacular gorges and back into the evening sun. As the valleys widen, we gain more daylight, and opt to continue to Hokitika. The sun pours out of the sky in front of us, lighting river beds and the diminishing shoulders of the alps. We stop frequently to gape at the tapestries unfolding about us, yet still manage to make Hokitika before the sun plunges into the sea.